A family's decision to sell their dairy cows
Last month, at the top of my personal Facebook feed, was a series of photos of Holstein cows.
They caught my attention. I looked to see more from the post. A Minnesota farmer I knew had posted about the award-winning dairy herd of cows he and his wife were selling.
The farmers, Glen and Melinda Groth of Ridgeway, Minn., are people I first was connected to via social media circles in agriculture for many years. We met in person through Farm Bureau events. Since then, we've stayed connected through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Staying connected to people you have shared interests with is a part of the positive I enjoy about social media. I messaged Glen and Melinda and asked if my colleague and I could come to visit their farm before they sell their dairy cows. I punched in my south-central North Dakota location to their far southeastern Minnesota location. It would be a 500-mile trip, one-way.
But with years of low milk prices and knowing each year we're losing hundreds of dairy farms, I wanted to visit farmers I know personally to share their story on AgweekTV and learn how they planned to preserve their farm by focusing on their cropland while raising their three young daughters.
Sitting across from me at their farm kitchen table, Glen said as we started the interview and taping, "Growing up here, if you weren't milking cows, you weren't farming. Period."
But as I learned, Glen and Melinda aren't the only farmers in their area selling their dairy cows. Glen said, "And I think there will be more yet, too."
It will be the first time in 50 years there will not be dairy cows on the Groth farm.
"It was a lot safer bet to invest our money and our time into the crop farming entity," Glenn stressed. Melinda added, "We weren't in a situation where somebody was saying, 'You're done.'"
Melinda spent eight years away from farming, building a career as a Mayo Clinic researcher and then was farming on her own before meeting Glen.
"I never imagined that I would be a dairy farmer's wife," Melinda said. "And being a farmer myself, it was kind of, how do we make this work? How do we merge two farms?"
She abruptly changed her farming plans. In 2014, she and Glen married. Since then, they've had three daughters and the decision to sell their dairy cows has been a part of nearly every conversation they have had lately. Life without dairy cows, what will it look like for the Groth family?
"Day one is probably going to be some tears," Melinda said. "But I hope that's going to be quickly replaced with the weight of that decision being lifted. A decision that, at least, we got to make it. We called the shots on it. Probably days two through seven, we might be frolicking a little bit with some extra time."
Melinda shared that she hopes they can go on a short family vacation before spring planting starts and then they'll be ready to tackle the 2019 crop year.
Melinda and Glen also will be continuing to focus on raising their next generation of their farm. They hope their daughters will be getting some rides in the buddy seats in tractors. Melinda said about their daughters, "I want them to know there is a bright future in agriculture for them, no matter what it looks like, even if you maybe have to do a scary step of changing directions midlife or mid-career."
Glen and Melinda are courageous to step out in confidence and make the change best for their farm and family. It's not easy to step out and make the big change, even if it's often best for your family and business. It's emotional and never easy.
Often we only see the sad stories of dairy farms selling out and don't see, hear or read the greater context of the farm's story. By taking the time to visit with Glen and Melinda, I learned firsthand the future is bright for the Groth farm, just without twice-a-day milking.